(Welcome to my attempt at covering up my inability to update my c-blog, err, wait... can I start again?) (Welcome to the most nauseating game reviews you'll ever read! ...No, that's not right...) (Welcome to the only reviews that attempt to justify a lack of professional tools for taking screenshots! In an attempt to allow me more excuses to update this c-blog, I'm going to throw the occasional review up here, because why the hell not? I'm going to kick it off with a number that I haven't seen much buzz about and hope you don't go "tl;dr" on me here.)
With Final Fantasy 13 having released recently, JRPGs are on people's minds. Whether its talk that the genre is past its time, talk about if linearity in an RPG is a good thing in a post-Mass Effect/Fallout 3 world, or just talk that stories in Japanese games only make sense to Japanese people, people are talking.
Glory of Heracles is not on people's minds when these people are talking. Not because it's the exception that proves the rule. Far from it. Glory of Heracles takes the core of what makes JRPGs work (at its core, resource management, stat juggling, and loot), and throws everything else out. It doesn't innovate. It's linear as hell. And its plot leaves you scratching your head at times. And yet, I can't help but love the damn thing.
Glory of Heracles has you taking control of a nameless amnesiac silent protagonist (three of Japan's strong points) during the times of ancient Greece. Right off the bat, you run into a girl (who claims she's a guy, but even the game's tutorials aren't going to lie to you about her actual gender) and she somehow discovers that you, like her, are somehow immortal. (This doesn't ever pop up in terms of gameplay. It's just an excuse for how your character survives some of the crazy things that happens in cutscenes.) The two of you set off to discover the reason why you're both immortal, along the way learning that your character is apparently the legendary hero Heracles and meeting other amnesiac immortals, including a muscular man who is absolutely sure that he's the legendary hero Heracles.
The game weighs for close to 30-40 hours, and the dialogue is very sharply written, with quality humor sprinkled through most of the first half (including Nintendo milking any memes that their games spawned). The characters are reasonably likable, although I can only imagine that this probably wouldn't have been the case if they opted for voice acting. And while the plot itself does eventually give way into an expected JRPG “save-the-world” story, it manages to tie in to the original plot of finding out whose these amnesiacs really are pretty well. And while there are quite a few plot threads, the characters are at least considerate enough to remind you what threads are relevant and what you probably forgot in playing this game off-and-on for close to 40 hours.
The gameplay is pretty much the barebones JRPG experience. You walk from town, talk to people, occasionally sell and upgrade your equipment (Don't sell it all, though! Some of the later blacksmiths need your old junk to make the new hotness.), and get in fights. The game is super-linear, and you often can't backtrack to past towns if you wanted to, although you will find treasures if you venture off the beaten path, even on the world map.
Again, combat isn't anything new if you have played any of the NES or SNES Final Fantasies. Put members of your party in the front or back row. Take turns keeping your HP above 0 while you batter the enemies' HP down to 0. Only front row guys get basic attacks. Back row guys have to rely on spells, which are split between skills and magic. That last bit is the only thing that might be a shock to anyone who plays alot of JRPGs, but it’s nothing shocking. Skills are meant to represent special physical abilities and use just MP. Magic is, well, magic, and does have one trick up its sleeve in that it requires a resource that both your party and the enemies share in addition to MP. This resource, ether, refills itself through the course of battle, and trying to cast a spell without the required amount of ether (even of one type) will result in some self-damage called "Ether Reflux", though reflux isn't something you really have to worry about until you're flinging about some really high-end spells. Still, against magic-using enemies, ether reflux does add a tiny bit of strategy if the conditions are right. (I, myself, got an enemy to commit suicide from reflux damage alone, though it involved an enemy that copied each spell I cast and a spell that drained one whole ether pool.) And, of course, there's an elemental rock-paper-scissors thing going on, and they try to keep your attention during combat by appending touchscreen-implemented action commands (which are optional). It's nothing shocking, but the early parts of the game hold your hand as if you were playing Baby's First JRPG, with tutorials on everything from combat to equipping gear to navigating the world map.
The game takes an interesting graphical approach. While everything outside of the “setup” menu is modeled in polygons, it’s textured in a way that it all looks sprite-based. It’s an interesting take to add to its retreaux motif, and the game manages to pull it off pretty well. You might spot a jaggie here or there, but had you not read this review, you’d just assume it’s the old fashioned graphics at work. However, you will be wishing for a more old-fashioned fixed camera. In towns, the camera does an abysmal job, constantly swinging around the moment you walk in front of a door to show you that door, and your movement is dependant on the camera’s angle.
Overall, there’s really not much to say about Glory of Heracles that you can’t say about JRPGs in general. Really, your opinion of this game will probably come down to your opinion of JRPGs. It doesn’t do anything innovative, but what it does, it does well. And sure, it takes some liberties with its source material (the Trojan Horse was certainly not used as a battering ram to enter a zombie-infested city of Troy), but it couldn’t have done as good of a job elsewise. All I will say is that sometimes you don’t need to do anything super-new to be enjoyed. Hell, Earthbound wasn’t exactly super-innovative.